Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

What's Left of Me is young author Kat Zhang's debut novel. It's just come out (October) from Harper Collins and a review copy was provided to me by the publisher.

What's Left of Me is set in a world where everyone is born with two minds in one body. The parents name both children and then, at around the age of six or seven, one of the minds will prove to be dominant and will take over sole control of the body. This is called settling and, in the Americas (ruled by a single president after much warring), it happens to everybody. Or almost everybody. Eva and Addie never settled. They pretended to, so that they wouldn't be taken away from their parents to a hospital to fix them. Now in highschool, with Addie the dominant mind and Eva, the point of view character, in the background, they try not to get noticed so that no one will suspect their secret.

At first I didn't really buy this as a dystopian novel. For most of the country, it's not really a dystopia. Mostly, it felt like our world, with democracy and everything, but with an alternate history past. Even the fact that everyone believes hybrids like Eva and Addie need to be institutionalised and fixed didn't strike me as particularly... un-real world-ish. From the point of view of the society, Eva/Addie are mentally ill for not settling and trying to fix and fearing people like them isn't wildly different to the way the psychiatric system works (or has worked in the past) in the real world.

So it wasn't until about half way through that I became convinced that, OK, maybe we can call this dystopian. It was mainly the structure of the climax of this (first book in a trilogy) and the hints for the sequels that did it (and some spoilery world building helped). To me, at it's heart, What's Left of Me is a classic science fictional "what if" story, wrapped up in the trappings of modern YA dystopia. What if every body contained two minds? We see some of the ramifications of this question in What's Left of Me with very obviously more left to come in the future books.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. I was impressed with how well it was crafted and how fascinating the ideas were. The blurb, in my opinion, did nothing for it, making it seem a bit paranormal or evoking ideas of ghosts. It's not paranormal. No one has magic powers. It's down to Earth, high concept science fiction. And it's great.

I highly recommend what's left of me to fans of YA and to fans of What If science fiction who aren't predisposed to disliking the YA trappings. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

4.5 / 5 stars

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